I thought that it would be appropriate for my Christmas message this year to recall some of my personal memories of Murray. It is also an open invitation for everyone to share their memories of Murray as well.
I always remember Murray in his fedora. You rarely saw him without it. I first met Murray in Brampton Ontario in the Spring of 1966 and of course he was wearing his fedora. I was impressed with Murray and the University of Denver hockey program. I committed to go to DU. However, when it came to admission I needed to upgrade my marks. I thought I would not be able to get into DU that year but Murray suggested that I come down and attend Arapahoe Junior College and then apply as a Junior College transfer. I was probably the only Junior College transfer in DU history at the time. I don’t know if subsequently there were others. Murray could have passed me over but when he made a commitment to you he honoured it. I don’t think Murray ever had anyone sign a letter of intent to attend DU your word and his word was all that was needed. At the time freshman weren’t eligible to play their first year so I was able to practice.
When I came to Denver Murray let me use his beloved pink Cadillac so I could get to classes at Arapahoe Junior College. Thankfully gas was only 19 cents a gallon at the time. He made arrangements for me to live with some of the Manitoba crew Gerry Johnasson, Ed Hamiliton and Al Genovy in a house near the downtown area. We lived there at a reduced rent in return for cleaning an office next door. I recall a couple of parties in that house but those stories are for a different time.
I was able to get my grades up and transferred to DU in the winter quarter. I then had my scholarship and was able to move into the dorms on campus and got my meal pass for the cafeteria in the dorm, which meant I could eat on a regular basis but I had to give up the pink Cadillac.
I remember some of the conversations I had with Murray in his office. He told me that he never discouraged anyone from trying out for the hockey team. Players would come and go but he had never cut anyone from the team.
He said prior to our freshman class in 1967 he never had any rules for the team but the year before Steve Keeler had broken his leg Spring skiing so now his only rule was no skiing. Steve was in the DU Infirmary with his leg in traction for quite a long time. I am sure there were some other temporary rules like no snowmobiling in North Dakota, no putting furniture in the hotel elevators. There was one other unspoken rule and that was to respect the National Anthem when it was played at the start of the game. This was our time to stand together as a team and to be proud to wear the DU sweater. There was an article in the DU Magazine a couple of years ago from one of the players about how Murray instilled honour and respect in his players and team unity by respecting the national anthem. I kept it in a safe place but can’t remember where that place is so my apologies for not giving recognition to whoever sent it.
We all knew it was worth your life to move before the Anthem was over or draw attention to yourself by shifting from skate to skate. I have always remembered that life lesson on unity and patriotism. We all remember his motivational talk about standing during the national anthem. I may not recall it verbatim but he would say “ When you are standing on the blueline during the national anthem and the pee runs down your leg and you look at the player across the ice you know in your heart that you are in better condition and have worked and practised harder than he has and that will be the difference in the game.“ As we know Tom Peluso sent in a nomination for Murray for the US Hockey Hall of Fame. The selection committee did not accept Murray’s nomination this year because there was no proof of Murray’s US citizenship with the application. If they only knew what we knew and how patriotic he was to his adopted country and how he had instilled that same sense of patriotism in all his players for the opportunity to attend university and play in one of the premier hockey programs in US College Hockey. Tom Peluso and Rob Armstrong are working to correct that small omission but unfortunately it has to wait until next year.
I think Murray expected that we would be responsible young men and we would not want to do anything that would be detrimental to the DU Hockey program. While there may have been a few hiccups along the way I think we always respected Murray’s faith and trust in us. We did not want to let him down. Murray always looked to the Seniors to provide the example and leadership for the team. Although there may have been some exceptions I always remember that the team captains were the Seniors.
Most of the coaches in the other sports at Denver coached as well as taught phys ed classes. I asked Murray why he didn’t teach phys ed classes. He said when he first came to DU they had him teaching golf classes. Everyone in his golf classes always got an A so the administration decided that Murray wasn’t cut out to be an instructor.
Murray knew each of us individually. I remember hearing a story about a telegram that Murray read to the team between periods when they were behind in a game. He identified the special people in the players lives and individual messages from those who had sent the telegram. When the team got back to Denver and talked about how the telegram they had sent had inspired the team – no one said they had sent a telegram - Murray had read a blank piece of paper. I hope it is not an urban legend and I would love to hear that actual story from those players that were there and the impact it had on them.
Truly there was an Armstrong Era. His Legacy lives on in each of us who were fortunate enough to call him our coach and our friend. When I look back on my time at Denver there is a sense of connection, a bond with each player who has proudly worn the DU Jersey in whatever year we played past or present. For when all is said and done we were a Pioneer.